decreased deep tendon reflexes

Friedreich Ataxia 1

Clinical Characteristics
Ocular Features: 

Nystagmus and optic atrophy are important ocular signs.  The visual pathway, both anterior and posterior, is consistently involved and field defects are common even though many patients are asymptomatic.  OCT usually shows a reduced nerve fiber layer secondary to loss of axons.  About half of patients have abnormal visual evoked potentials.  A few patients experience a sudden loss of central vision during the second decade of life.

Systemic Features: 

Friedreich ataxia is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder with onset before puberty.  The spinocerebellar tracts, dorsal columns, pyramidal tracts, cerebellum, medulla, and optic radiation, may all be involved.  The outstanding symptom is ataxia with impairment of gait and weakness in the limbs.  Muscle weakness, extensor plantar responses, and absent lower limb reflexes are usually present.  Dysarthria is usually notable.  Sensory signs include impairment of position and vibratory senses.  'Twitching' in limbs and digits is often noted and 'restless leg syndrome' is common.

Secondary changes include pes cavus, scoliosis, and hammer toe.  Cardiac disease is frequently present and heart failure is the most common cause of death.  Most patients have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with characteristic EKG changes and some have subaortic stenosis as part of the hypertrophied myocardium.  Diabetes mellitus is present in 20-25%.  Some hearing loss occurs in more than 10% of individuals.

Most patients require a wheelchair within 15 years of disease onset and the mean age of death is about 36 years.

Rare patients with a later onset of FRDA retain lower limb deep tendon reflexes.


Homozygous mutations in FXN (9p21.11) are responsible for Friedreich ataxia.  The most common DNA abnormality is a GAA trinucleotide repeat expansion in intron 1.  The number of repeats in patients is 70 to more than 1000 compared with 5-30 in normal individuals.  FXN encodes the mitochondrial protein frataxin.

About 2% of individuals have point mutations in FXN instead of trinucleotide repeats.

Some of the phenotypic variations may be explained by differences in the number of GAA repeats.

Autosomal recessive
Treatment Options: 

Treatment is largely directed at symptoms including speech and physical therapy and mobility assistive devices. Scoliosis may require surgical intervention.

Article Title: 

Visual system involvement in patients with Friedreich's ataxia

Fortuna F, Barboni P, Liguori R, Valentino ML, Savini G, Gellera C, Mariotti C, Rizzo G, Tonon C, Manners D, Lodi R, Sadun AA, Carelli V. Visual system involvement in patients with Friedreich's ataxia. Brain. 2009 Jan;132(Pt 1):116-23.

PubMed ID: 

Friedreich ataxia: an overview

Delatycki MB, Williamson R, Forrest SM. Friedreich ataxia: an overview. J Med Genet. 2000 Jan;37(1):1-8. Review.

PubMed ID: 
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